how to build your brand and tell your story using humor and comics

While you might be sold on the value of using content marketing for your business, you’re less convinced that you can get anyone to read your blog about plumbing widgets. Or axe supplies. Or fridge magnets. Because not every industry is readily exciting to everyone not wholly devoted to it.

We’ve talked about how to write exciting content for boring industries (not that your industry is boring) on this blog before, but let’s delve a bit deeper into one aspect of it: humor.

Who doesn’t love a good laugh? Using humor is a way to get your reader into that happy and positive mindset, which makes them easier to convert.

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Cacophony Makes People Laugh

Cacophony, those sounds in language that are harsh and shocking, make people laugh.

Cacophony makes a racket in the spoken and written word, with qualities very unlike the smooth flowing sounds of open-ended vowels. Think of the letter K, and other letters (like the hard G, D, P, B, and T) that stop the sound of the word. That is cacophony, and it can wreak havoc on the funny bone.

how to build your brand with the humor of cacophony

In Neil Simon’s play The Sunshine Boys, the character Willy acknowledges this to his nephew:

“Fifty-seven years in this business, you learn a few things. You know what words are funny and which words are not funny. Alka Seltzer is funny. You say ‘Alka Seltzer,’ you get a laugh…Words with the ‘k’ sound in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that’s a funny name. Robert Taylor is not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomato is not funny. Cookie is funny. Cucumber is funny. Car keys. Cleveland…Cleveland is funny. Maryland is not funny. Then, there’s chicken. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny.”

References to this cacophonous truth about comedy abound.

It pops up in Star Trek TNG (“The Outrageous Okona“) with Data being told that words ending in K are funny.  It shows up in a 30 Rock episode “Kidney Now!” in which a character says that, despite the situation, the word kidney was funny.

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In the episode “Faith Off” in season 11 of The Simpsons, Sideshow Mel leads Krusty the Clown up to a faith healer because Krusty has lost his voice to laryngitis. The minister asks Mel what was wrong with Krusty. “He paralyzed his vocal cords cramming too many ”K” sounds into a punch line,” Mel replied. After being healed, Krusty responds with “hey, I got my comedy K’s back” and then a bevy of cacophonous words. “King Kong coldcocked Kato Kaelin” he blurts triumphantly.

This isn’t the only nod to The K Rule in The Simpsons. In a later “Homie The Clown” episode, Sideshow Mel recommends that clown college students memorize a series of funny words:  Walla Walla, Keokuk, Cucamonga, and Seattle.

Tell Me: Why would a non-word like Bazinga be so funny?

Those words, in and of themselves, aren’t particularly funny. What’s funny is that they sound funny. It’s called The K Rule, and it’s a standard in comedy.

Put It Into Practice: Start building a word bank. Find cacophonous words that apply to your industry. List them. Create another word bank of cacophonous words that are general, not industry specific, that you can use. As you’re reading or listening to conversations, write down the words that strike you as funny or made you laugh to yourself.

Words themselves can be funny, even outside of a “funny” context.

Think In Terms Of Threes

Comedy has a rule of threes. It’s all about establishing a pattern, and then surprising the audience by breaking it.

If I told you that my siblings names were Bob, Jane, and Habakkuk, you’d probably snicker as I told you. For one thing, Habakkuk is a word that kills it with The K Rule. But there is also something else at work, and that’s a list where something simply doesn’t belong.

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We laugh when there is a group and all of them are similar except one, which is painfully out of place. It is doubly funny because the word that doesn’t belong comes at the end.

The list sets us up with a pattern, and we expect it to boringly complete that pattern. When it doesn’t, it’s funny. And it also makes us highly curious. We wonder what the story is to that outsider being included in the list.

how to build your brand with humorous patterns of threes

Curiosity makes readers read, remember. That’s a good thing.

So let’s say you’re a plumber and you want to try a little humor to get your reader interested. You write a post where you describe an average day of a plumber. Your introduction hooks your reader by using the following:

An average day for a plumber involves a pipe wrench, duct tape, and a rabies shot.

You then proceed to talk about being a plumber and the possibility of running into less-than-friendly pets while making house calls. While it’s not going to bring down the house as far as a comedic routine, it is funny and provokes curiosity.

There are two important qualities that have to be minded to make this work.

1. Establish the right pattern.

You are only using three list items, with the first two establishing the pattern you want your reader to see. You must make sure those first two create an obvious pattern without any similarity to the third.

This is a good list:

My biggest disappointments in life have been relationships, finances, and the Minnesota Vikings.

This is not a good list:

My favorite foods are pizza, cake, and squid.

The rule of three doesn’t work when the pattern isn’t well established or surprisingly broken.

2. Keep the copy tight.

And note another important quality: Write the list without excessive adjectives that slow down the speed at which the reader is led up to the punch line.

That’s timing, and in comedy, timing is everything. The delivery can make the entire joke. If that list were more clumsily written, the punch line has less punch.

An average day for a plumber involves several sizes of pipe wrenches, professional grade duct tape with high viscosity, and a rabies shot.

The pattern isn’t as visible when the copy isn’t as tight. It kinda works, but not as great.

Put It Into Practice: Find the lists that are waiting to be used in your copy. Use them high in the copy to promote further reading.

  1. You can get your reader to convert using email, visible calls to action, and a set of brass knuckles.
  2. We increased our traffic by 400% through remarketing, podcasts, and bribing my mother.

Find the funny outsider to throw into your list, and use it. Shock your reader by breaking the pattern they expect from the list. And read Ken Levine’s blog post about it for an in-depth look at some subtle ways it can work (and not work) for you. Consider reading And Here’s The Kicker if you can get your hands on a copy.

Using Comics In Your Copy

Comics tap into the power of both imagery and humor.

At the most basic, comics are an illustration style. It’s not necessarily a full-blown graphic novel. Comics are useful to help illustrate how to do something, or to reinforce an idea you are trying to convey with your copy.

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In some of my earlier posts on this blog, I used my own comic illustrations to reinforce ideas from my copy. I used hungry dinosaurs to illustrate the safety of creative limitations, a ruined computer monitor to talk about exciting blog content and zombie blogs, and an auto parts salesman to discuss the possibility that there was too much content marketing.

While we’ve moved away from using my cartoons on this blog in favor of other approaches, it is still a viable option for some types of content.

blogs aren't dead

Before you jump into using comics to add a touch of humor or make your content more compelling, you will need:

1. A decision on comic length.

While I leaned toward the short comic, with one to three scenes and a punchline, you might consider something more substantial: an actual long-form comic story.

Longer comics are great for:

  • E-books and extra support materials
  • Infographics
  • Blog post series
  • Complex “how to” or “why you should” content

Short cartoons are great for:

  • Featured graphics of a single post
  • Content shared directly to social media
  • Single idea summations from blog copy
  • Quick-share graphics

If you choose to go the longer route, the Content Marketing Institute points out in a blog post on using comics that for a comic to work, you need truth, suspense, and human connection. In other words, the classic elements of a story.

2. An artist or designer.

In our post about multi-tasking, we hired professional comic artist Brian Shearer to create a few illustrations. We wanted someone to convey a visual interpretation of the confusion that arises when multitasking is in full swing.


Illustration by professional comic artist Brian Shearer. @Brian_Shearer

For the other posts that had cartoons, I drew them myself.

Pro Tip: Check out ToonDoo, MakeBeliefsComix, or any of the other tools from this article by Mashable to easily make your own comics.

You can’t get around the fact that if you are going to go this route, you have to have someone to create them. But remember, comics can look so many different ways!

Your illustrator can create the cartoons using flat graphics and dialogue balloons. You could use stock imagery and add dialogue to the people in the photo. And, as xkcd has shown us, you can even use stick figures.

Epic, simple comic from xkcd explaining blogging. Who likes post series, anyway?

As long as you’re not using copyrighted images improperly, creating a comic is not impossible.

3. An understanding of which posts will benefit.

Let’s take a look at that multi-tasking post again.

In a post about the overload of information, I wanted to be sure we didn’t have too many charts and graphs that would create the same feelings I was talking about avoiding. Shearer’s illustrations provided the emotional proof to support the copy instead of the intellectual proof, and that’s exactly what I was looking for in that particular case.

Not every post is going to benefit from a comic, which is more than a simple image. Remember, a comic is telling a story of some sort, even if it doesn’t have dialogue. Some posts are better suited toward imagery that merely conveys information or makes the post attractive on the blog and social media.

Blog posts that benefit from comics might include:

  • Posts with an emotional component that is integral to the message.
  • Posts without heavy data (those posts do better with infographics).
  • Posts on a topic that is poorly illustrated with a stock image.

Now You Know How To Build Your Brand With Humor

Stand up comedians use voice tone, gesture, and expression to make their words funny, but writers don’t have that. All you have at your disposal is the words and images you use.

Being conscious of the rhythm, pattern, sound, and play of the words as they interact with each other is vital if you’re going for a comedic zing in your copy. Choose the posts that would benefit from a comic, and apply the same comedic writing approach to your comic writing.

Final words? Use sarcasm with great caution, sprinkle your comedic efforts throughout your copy without overloading it, and let your reader know it’s OK to laugh at whatever you’re holding up for them to laugh at. Even if it’s laughing at you.

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How do you use humor in your blogging and marketing?